WHEELING — A researcher at West Virginia University believes the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges shouldn’t be replaced, but rather “renewed” with a polymer-based product that already has been used on two bridge projects in the Northern Panhandle.
Hoto GangaRao, director of the Constructed Facilities Center at WVU, pushed the benefits of FRP during the WVU Academic Media Day last week in Morgantown.
GangaRao developed FRP — a fiber-reinforced polymer composite consisting of polymer resin and glass or carbon fibers — in the late 1980s.
Following eight years of additional research, the McKinleyville Bridge in Brooke County in 1996 became the first bridge designed for vehicular use to have concrete decking reinforced with FRP rebar, as opposed to traditional steel rebar.
Five years later in 2001, the same polymer product was used for the decking in the Market Street Bridge in Wheeling.
Today — after two decades — both bridges are said to still be in “good condition,” according to GangaRao.
He has moved on to create a second polymer product — an FRP wrap that is applied to wet concrete or lumber to strengthen a deteriorating structure.
Unlike steel, FRP doesn’t deteriorate. And GangaRao said he has conducted aging tests to show the material will last about 100 years “at a minimum.”
“I think we should not be thinking about ripping out or replacing infrastructure,” he said. “What we should be thinking about is renewing infrastructure. This would save a tremendous amount of dollars, time, and user inconvenience.”
The price to renew a bridge with FRP is about $70 a square foot, compared to the cost of replacing a bridge at about $160 per square foot, according to GangaRao.
He provided data stating there are about 620,000 bridges in America. Many of these are in need of repairs, with an estimated price tag of about $4.5 trillion.
Just $2.5 trillion has been budgeted by the federal government over the next 10 years to address the issue, GangaRao said, leaving a shortfall of about $2 trillion.
In West Virginia, there are about 7,000 bridges, with 17.3 percent of them considered deficient. The state ranks fifth worst in the nation with respect to the condition of its bridges, he said.
The annual cost to West Virginia drivers attributed to aging infrastructure is about $515, according to GangaRao.